Be a good sport

From improving endurance to repairing muscle damage, we find out about the best supplements to take for sporting success

Cocoa flavanols
Best for: Aerobic fitness

“Flavanols are plant nutrients present in more than 500 different fruits and vegetables,” explains Dr Richard Wood of Bioepic Ltd. “Cocoa has the highest concentration but is easily lost if processing into chocolate without special procedures. Twenty-five years of research have shown that it is the minus form of epicatechin: (-)-epicatechin, which is most important when consumed. It improves the way blood moves around the body to deliver oxygen and nutrients. Good blood supply is vital for people exercising. During exercise our heart and breathing rate rise to supply the oxygen needed to fuel muscle contractions and expel carbon dioxide through the lungs. This whole process is enhanced by improved circulation and cocoa flavanols have been shown to increase the release of nitric oxide vital for the modulation of the vasculature. The result is that cocoa (-)-epicatechin improves the maximum oxygen uptake of the body, known as VO2 Max – a measure of aerobic physical fitness – improves skeletal muscle development, reduces recovery time and reduces muscle damage from oxidative stress.”

Creatine
Best for: Physical performance

“Creatine monohydrate is probably the most well researched sports supplement,” says Daniel Herman, founder of Bio-synergy Ltd (www.bio-synergy.co.uk). “It has recently received pan-European approval. Creatine increases physical performance in successive bursts of short-term, high intensity exercise. There are a number of misconceptions about creatine – that it is unnatural and increases muscle size – when in fact you find creatine in several foods and it is abundant in your body. Although creatine improves performance, subject to the type and intensity of training, it also improves recovery, delays muscle fatigue and allows you to train longer, so can be equally effective for endurance athletes as well as those looking to packing on muscle.”

Baobab
Best for: Longer-lasting energy

“Baobab is a great source of vitamin C, calcium, potassium and some B vitamins and fibre,” says Rick Hay, fitness nutritionist (www.rickhay.co.uk). “This makes it a good source of natural energy when taken in a smoothie or juice prior to your workout. Due to the fibre content, that energy lasts longer and is more sustainable. The vitamin C helps with energy production at a cellular level whilst also helping to keep adrenal stress down and the immune system up, which is very important when we exercise or are training hard. It’s really high in antioxidant capability too and helps replenish electrolytes.”

Lucuma
Best for: Improved endurance

“Lucuma is another nutrient-dense option which has a pleasant sweet taste with a hint of caramel to it,” says Rick Hay. “It was traditionally used in Peru by the Incas as an energy food and to help with endurance. It is used a lot as a low GI sweetener as it avoids producing sugar spikes and slumps. Keeping blood sugar balanced really does help keep energy levels higher, as well as helping keep mood up, which may lead to helping you stay motivated to do exercise.”

Magnesium
Best for: All round support

“Magnesium is vital for optimal muscle contraction/relaxation, skeletal strength, energy production and assists in sustaining the high oxygen consumption necessary for athletic performance,” says Emily Whitehead, a nutritional therapist, personal trainer and brand ambassador for BetterYou (www.betteryou.com). “It’s pivotal in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) needed for energy.

Magnesium helps athletes sleep better, elevates testosterone, builds muscle, improves insulin sensitivity and increases strength. Low levels could contribute to muscle cramps, soreness and fatigue. Applying magnesium transdermally, either as a body spray rubbed directly into the muscle areas or as a magnesium-rich body or foot bath is the easiest and most effective way to guarantee absorption directly into the bloodstream. Magnesium chloride is the form used in transdermal magnesium therapy which is totally ionized and exceptionally well absorbed through the skin.”

BCAAs
Best for: Supporting muscle function

“While nothing can take the place of a diet rich in antioxidants, fibre, lean protein, complex carbs and healthy fats, a regular training regime that includes plenty of higher intensity activity can benefit from supplementation from time to time,” says Laura Williams, brand ambassador for Solgar (www.solgar.co.uk) “There are quite a few supplements that stand up to scrutiny these days including BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids). These are considered to be the exerciser’s friend as there’s pretty hefty evidence they can support muscle function and help to reduce exercise damage. Branched chain amino acids consist of three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine, and in addition to supplement form, can be found in protein-rich foods, especially red meat and dairy, as well as in nuts and pulses. They can only be obtained from dietary sources. It’s thought they may help with everything from increasing concentration and preventing fatigue to improving exercise performance and helping to prevent muscle breakdown following high intensity exercise.”

Omega-3s
Best for: Repairing muscle damage

“Omega-3s have been known for being great for heart health,” says Karrina Howe, a nutrition coach and qualified Olympic weightlifting trainer (www.karrinahowe.co.uk). “But fatty acids, specifically polyunsaturated fats containing omega-3s and omega-6s, play a key role in repairing muscle damage after a workout. Too much omega-6 promotes inflammation, so it’s important to neutralise it with omega-3. A ratio of 2:1, omega-6 to omega-3 is the goal. Known as essential fatty acids because our bodies cannot produce them, omega-3s must be obtained through the diet or supplementation. Fish oils are an excellent source and offer numerous health benefits like strong bones and improved cognitive function. They also promote muscle growth, improve strength and physical performance, and reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).”

Fibre
Best for:Nutrient absorption

“Although maybe not as fashionable, fibre is another important element for active people to consider,” says Edward Taylor, founder of wholefood shake brand Purition (www.purition.co.uk). “It is a well-known fact that a fibre-rich diet can help with weight loss. However, fibre is also essential for a healthy gut, which is important when it comes to sports nutrition. A healthy gut can strengthen the immune system, helping with inflammation and injury from muscle use, and can also improve digestive issues faced by many a sports person. Plus, a healthy gut ensures nutrients are processed properly. All the other nutrients mentioned are important, however, without a healthy gut they won’t be fully absorbed, meaning fibre may actually be the most important of all.”

Did you know?

“Found in most of the popular energy drinks, taurine has been shown to help concentration and also to help reduce muscle cramps,” says James Collier.

“Beta-alanine buffers the lactic acid in muscles and delays the onset of fatigue,” says James Collier, a registered nutritionist and co-founder of www.Huel.com.

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